Just a quick post on a strategy I recently used so I don’t forget to use it again in the future.

We were working on law of sines (LOS) in trig. We spent one day deriving the law of sines and one day solving basic triangles. At this point, about 30% of the class was ready to move on to complex LOS applications (the next lesson) while the rest of the class needed more practice solving triangles using LOS. Without planning it all the way through, here’s what I decided to do.

The next day I placed students that were ready for the application questions together in two small groups. Let’s call this the “advanced” students. I provided them with instructions, materials, and let them go explore the problems in their groups. I provided minimal scaffolding. For the most part they were able to work their way through the first few problems, which was what I hoped for.

As for the students that needed reinforcement and more practice, I placed them together in a few groups and provided heavy scaffolding and detailed attention to their needs. I’ll call these the “developing” students. I floated, sat and worked with them individually, and clarified any misconceptions that came up. By the end of the period, I was pretty confident that almost all of them could solve a triangle using LOS.

The following day, I brought the groups back together by using the advanced students to teach the developing students the complex LOS problems that they had already solved. I placed 1-2 advanced members with 2-4 developing members, depending on their levels. I found it to be a pretty good proportion. Of course, I was around to help and answer questions, but the kids ran the show and worked independently of me. The advanced students reinforced their understanding of the problems while the developing students shared a private tutor. And because the developing group got to practice more of the basic stuff the day before, they were much more fluid with the new material. It worked so well that I had them continue this peer tutoring for a second day.

What I loved about this stretch of days was that it promoted independent thinking and allowed me to reach the kids that needed it most. It also incorporated peer tutoring and kickstarted some great discussion amongst the kids. To top it off, it all required minimal prep. It was a win across the board.

Although we were studying the law of sines, I don’t see why I couldn’t use this strategy somewhat regularly with other topics. It could work well with anything that starts off fairly straightforward and gets complex, but still is obtainable without much scaffolding. Even if it does require a bit more guidance, I could provide more detailed scaffolding to the advanced group to help get them off the ground. And, of course, the advanced students could change based on the concept so one would get too comfortable.

Another collaboration strategy added to the toolbox.

Boy, do I need them.

bp